What d'ya know? Dillon is back in the Class A state championship.
The steady and unflappable Beavers withstood Hardin's best shot -- and its spirited crowd -- to get back to the state title for its third consecutive appearance and the sixth time in the last eight years. Not even Hardin's 14-1 run to end the third quarter or the three times it wrestled away the lead in the fourth could stop Dillon from making it back to the class' grandest stage.
Dillon will face Billings Central, back in the title game for the first time in three seasons and in pursuit of its first title since 1996, on Saturday at 8 p.m. The Beavers will attempt to add their sixth state championship.
While Dillon had to withstand Hardin's late surge, Central scribbled its name into the championship rung of the tournament bracket early in its matchup with Havre and then shot free throw after free throw after free throw to make sure the writing was done in ink: the Rams shot 47 free throws in their 68-57 win.
Dillon 65, Hardin 61
Dillon, fresh off a 69-57 win over Laurel, opened a 21-8 lead over Hardin with a little more than 2 minutes to go in the first. But just as they did in a win over over Butte Central on Thursday, the Bulldogs chipped away, cutting the deficit to 25-21 on Beau Venne's layup midway through the second.
They stayed within striking distance until Dillon's Troy Andersen poured in six points of a 9-0 run that allowed Dillon to push its lead to 11 with 3:05 to go in the third.
That's when the Hardin crowd, situated directly behind Dillon's bench, was ignited by one of Darnell Left Hand's seven field goals. He finished with 24 points and 20 rebounds.
Left Hand's bucket started a 14-1 spurt that included threes from Clarence Little Wolf and Virgil McCormick. McCormick's connection cut through the net with seconds left on the clock in the third and tied the game at 44.
The teams traded the lead six times in the fourth.
Tanner Haverfield finally put the Beavers on top for good, leaking out behind the Hardin press for a fast-break layup that put them ahead 54-53 with 4:40 to go. Nate Simkins, who was locked in a night-long battle with Little Wolf and McCormick, sealed the deal with two free throws with six seconds on the clock after Hardin elected to let 39 seconds elapse before fouling.
Billings Central 68, Havre 57
Billings Central knew if it had any chance of returning to the state title game for the first time in three years, it was going to have to shut down Dane Warp. Central coach Jim Stergar left it up to his players to decide who would get the assignment and freshman Chrishon Dixon volunteered.
The lanky, but undersized Dixon showed why his coach didn't hesitate to let Dixon give it his best. Dixon kept Warp away from the rim, forcing him to shoot from the outside as the Rams opened a first-quarter lead.
Central led by as much as five in the first and then stretched it to 30-12 on two Jacob Hadley free throws with 2:18 to go in the half. It reached 20 halfway through on the third on Jacob Hadley's bucket. Hadley finished with 23 points on 6 of 10 shots and pulled down 13 rebounds.
Havre's offense struggled as shots caromed off the rim at an alarming rate. Not even Warp, a future Carroll Saint, could do much. He hit just 13 of his 33 attempts to finish with 29 points.
Trailing by 16 entering the final quarter, Havre repeatedly sent Central to the line in a final quarter that lasted 35 minutes. The Rams knocked down 34 of their 47 attempts.